For anyone unfamiliar with the term ghee, another name for it is clarified butter. One difference between ghee and regular butter is that the former doesn’t have as many dairy proteins, and there are a host of health advocates who maintain that ghee is the healthier option. Starting with pure butter made from cow’s milk, the ghee-making process involves heating and separating liquid fats from the milk solids, which become caramelized, and removing the milk solids (which also removes most of the lactose).
Ghee has been used in traditional cooking in India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia for eons, as an oil and as an ingredient, but it’s also an Ayurvedic go-to for herbal ointments, massage and as a medicinal to remedy rashes and burns. While butter isn’t bad for you (especially in comparison with vegetable oil, margarine and the multitude of erroneous, mass-marketed options introduced in the 1960s), ghee, which started as butter, may be the better choice.
For one thing, ghee, heated longer than most clarified butter, is darker and has a nuttier flavor, as well as a higher smoke point, making it easier and healthier for sautéing. In fact, including ghee in your diet may bring benefits for several areas, including your heart. Ghee is made up of about 50 percent saturated fat, which was considered a bad thing until the medical community and nutritionists began realizing that fat — including saturated fat — is good for you.
Interestingly, breast milk contains 54 percent saturated fat. Good fat like this is vital to proper development and your body can’t function without it. Even the American Heart Association recommends that people get 5 or 6 percent of their daily food intake from saturated fat, which is still far too low (you actually need upward of 50 to 70 percent healthy fat in your diet for optimal health), but butter deliciously helps to fulfill that requirement.1
So the “clarified” part is at least part of what makes ghee better than butter, but still, there are caveats. It’s also helpful to understand that “milk,” produced as it typically is in the U.S. today, contains elements that weren’t (or shouldn’t be) meant for human consumption. To explore all the facets of what ghee is, you must first start with milk.
You Must Start With Milk, but Not Just Any Old Milk
You probably already know that most of the milk produced on American farms is highly processed to homogenize and pasteurize it, superficially to remove potential pathogens. However, zapping it with high temperatures, called ultra-high temperature processing (UHT), is also to give the milk a longer shelf life, and the process destroys many of the natural immune-boosting enzymes and vitamins such as B6, B12 and C.
Beneficial digestive bacteria are eradicated as well, which often leads to constipation along with a host of other problems. In one of the most ironic twists, pathogenic bacteria might be killed off, but they’re not removed from the final product, so those fragments remain, further explaining the alarming abundance of milk allergies. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) notes:
“When you drink milk that has gone through these processes, you’re basically getting a ‘dead’ beverage … pasteurization and homogenization destroy nutrients and proteins, make healthy fats rancid and cause free radicals to form in the body. They denature milk by altering its chemical structure …
Enzymes like lactase, galactase and phosphate, essential for the assimilation of nutrients … are destroyed. Without these, milk becomes very difficult to digest. In fact, the lack of lactase in pasteurized milk is the cause of lactose intolerance. Unfortunately, the pancreas cannot produce these enzymes, so it becomes overstressed — a risk factor for diabetes and other diseases.”2
Sustainable Table notes that modern processes are so far removed from traditional farming methods they can’t even be called farming any more. It began with the industrialized “animal feeding operations, where animals are kept and raised in confined situations.”3 When they get large enough — 700 cows in a dairy operation — the word “concentrated” is added, as in CAFOs.4 In a nutshell:
“During the early 20th century, the increase in livestock in industrial dairy farms led to unsanitary and poor hygiene practices. This resulted in the rampant spread of disease-causing bacteria to become rampant, which contaminated the milk and infected people. That was the main reason why pasteurization became widespread.
Today, most commercial milk that comes from confined [concentrated] animal feeding operations (CAFOs) still needs to be pasteurized because the conditions in these overcrowded farms have worsened exponentially, leading CAFOs to becoming hotbeds for pathogenic bacteria contamination.”5
‘Sensitivities’ Can Involve Casein, Lactose and Gluten
Ghee, because it’s had quantities of the dairy proteins removed, has in the process had much of the casein and lactose eliminated. Lactose, according to the Cambridge Dictionary,6 is a type of sugar found in milk, and casein is the main protein in raw milk. Casein and gluten have a similar molecular structure. Healthy Eating notes:
“Gluten and casein are both proteins, but gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, while casein is in milk and dairy products. Some people are allergic to one or both; others have an inherited condition called celiac disease.”7
Cow’s milk is noted as one of the first foods given to babies and subsequently is one of the first types of allergies to appear in children. Respiratory problems are one of the first symptoms. Initially conducted in Austria in 2014, one study8 notes several symptoms that casein sensitivity can bring about, including:
Rashes or redness
Abdominal pain and bloating
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
Coughing, wheezing and asthma symptoms
Unfortunately, those are the milder cow’s milk allergy (CMA) symptoms. As far back as Hippocrates, gastrointestinal and skin problems were reported, but in the early 20th century, symptomology from milk consumption became more frequent. Besides diarrhea, there were incidences of slowed physical growth in children, as well as anaphylactic shock.
A page in an article covered by JAMA Network in 19949 noted that cow’s milk allergens in infants range from 0.5 to 7.5 percent but may be as high as 25 percent in some patient groups, and it’s often missed due to unspecified symptoms and different areas of the world. Another study noted that cow’s milk more frequently being given to infants in lieu of breast milk may explain part of the increase being seen.